It’s an open secret that Apple has a team working on a car-related project, but as with many of Apple’s projects, the details are scarce. Is it a self-driving car, or just an automated driving system? Will Apple simply
buy a car manufacturer?
In this article we gather all the latest leaks and rumours about Apple’s car project. Read on to find out the latest information about what has been unofficially dubbed the iCar, and what’s going on behind the steering wheel at Apple.
In an April 2021 interview (see details
below) Apple CEO Tim Cook discussed autonomous cars. While he didn’t comment on Apple’s specific plans in the field he did talk about how “we [Apple] love to integrate hardware, software and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that’s where the magic occurs,” hinting that Apple could build an autonomous-driving technology platform that could be used by car makers.
Is Apple building a car?
Apple has a number of projects going on behind the scenes, and at least one of them involves cars. There is a mass of evidence that this is the case as you will see if you read on.
The iCar project has been going on behind the scenes at Apple for a long time. Back in February 2015, there were murmurs that Apple was working on a car that would “give Tesla a run for its money” after Business Insider
spoke to an Apple employee with knowledge of the subject. This, coupled with sightings of cars registered to Apple clad with sensors/cameras (which were later debunked), got everyone talking about the prospects of an Apple Car, or iCar.
The iCar project is codenamed Titan, according to The Wall Street Journal,
which originally stated there were “several hundred” Apple employees working on the project.
…or car software
So, we know that Apple – like many other tech companies – is looking at car related technology. But what we don’t know for sure is whether Apple’s behind-the-scenes efforts will result in an Apple Car actually being released to the general public. Is the company simply working on software, or will it release an autonomous vehicle designed for ride-sharing companies or consumers. Or will Apple simply give up on the whole thing because it decides it’s not a good idea.
Some analysts think Apple is
likely to make the cars itself within the next few years, though (more on the
launch date of the Apple Car below).
Apple CEO Tim Cook discussed autonomous vehicles with Kara Swisher in an April 2021 interview (details here:
Cook talks about his future at Apple, autonomous cars and more). In the interview he revealed that: “We [Apple] love to integrate hardware, software and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that’s where the magic occurs. And we love to own the primary technology that’s around that.”
While he didn’t elaborate further it does sound like Apple’s interest is in the autonomous driving software, rather than the car itself. He did add that “We [Apple]investigate so many things internally. Many of them never see the light of day. I’m not saying that one will not.” So it’s possible that this project will never evolve beyond the research stage.
This isn’t the first time Cook has talked about cars. A June 2017 Bloomberg
interview with Cook also suggested that Apple was working on an autonomous driving platform.
When will the Apple iCar launch?
Of course, until we see Tim Cook on stage announcing the iCar, no one knows when or if any car-related software or hardware will ever be released by Apple.
In December 2020 “people familiar with the matter” quoted by Reuters insisted that the car project is back on, and that a passenger vehicle for consumers will be
released in 2024 – or rather, that’s when Apple is targeting for the launch.
We could have to wait a little longer though. A January 2021 Bloomberg report indicated that the Apple car is nowhere near production stage and “Apple will take at least half a decade to launch an autonomous, electric vehicle because development work is still at an early stage”. This suggests we won’t see anything until at least 2025.
Bloomberg’s sources indicated that the COVID pandemic is slowing progress because the team is working from home, with limited office time.
Well-informed analyst Ming-Chi Kuo believes it is more likely that the launch will take until
2028 or later.
This is in stark contrast with the (slightly less convincing) theory from Economic Daily News which forecast in December 2020 that
the iCar would launch in September 2021. EDN doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to Apple predictions, it must be said, and we’re not wholly convinced by this one.
lover of Apple Television rumours Gene Munster,
predicted back in 2015 that 2020 was the earliest we should expect the iCar. Obviously that deadline has now passed.
We may never see the Apple Car
Before Reuters dropped its bombshell Decemober 2020 report insisting that the Apple Car was back on, there was a sense that the project was likely to be called off. According to
CNBC in 2019, the company laid off 200 staff who had been working on the iCar at the end of January 2019, and this followed similar layoffs back in 2016.
CNBC had the news confirmed by an Apple spokesperson and some “people familiar with the group” who said that some of the autonomous systems team would be “moved to projects in other parts of the company, where they will support machine learning and other initiatives”.
However, at the time the spokesperson told CNBC that Apple believes “there is a huge opportunity with autonomous systems,” and described the project as “the most ambitious machine learning project ever”.
What Tim Cook says about the Apple Car
As we mentioned above, in April 2021 Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke to Kara Swisher for the Sway podcast in which he made some mention of automomous cars, although he didn’t go so far as to reveal Apple’s plans in the field.
In that interview he said: “The autonomy itself is a core technology, in my view. If you sort of step back, the car, in a lot of ways, is a robot. An autonomous car is a robot. And so there’s lots of things you can do with autonomy. And we’ll see what Apple does.”
He also said: “We love to integrate hardware, software and services, and find the intersection points of those because we think that’s where the magic occurs. And we love to own the primary technology that’s around that.”
sat down with Bloomberg in June 2017 to discuss autonomous driving: Talking about the project, Cook revealed that Apple is “focusing on autonomous systems” and that “it’s a core technology that we view as very important. We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects. It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects to actually work on”.
Just as in the 2021 interview, in 2017 Cook didn’t confirm or deny whether Apple is working on producing an iCar, driverless or otherwise, or whether the technology will be used by existing car manufacturers. “We’ll see where it takes us. We’re not really saying from a product point of view what we will do.”
According to Cook, Apple is currently focusing on everything it takes to ‘view’ the world around the car and understanding what it means in the context of navigation and safety.
While this isn’t confirmation that Apple is working on a self-driving car, it’s not a huge leap to make either.
Cook also discussed the possibility of an Apple Car during an
interview with Fortune in February 2016. He said: “We don’t have to spend large amounts to explore.”
Apparently, Apple becomes “committed” to a project once the company begins spending huge amounts of money on tools, company acquisitions and other processes (as rumours suggest the company has), although hiring experts don’t seem to count. “We explore things with teams of people. And that’s a part of being curious,” Cook said.
Interestingly, Elon Musk has claimed that he offered Apple the chance to
make such an acquisition in 2017, and was turned down. Regarding Tesla Cook said (in that Sway podcast mentioned above) “You know, I’ve never spoken to Elon, although I have great admiration and respect for the company he’s built. I think Tesla has done an unbelievable job of not only establishing the lead, but keeping the lead for such a long period of time in the EV space. So I have great appreciation for them.”
It wasn’t the last that Cook had to say about the iCar, either. Only days after speaking to Fortune in 2016, Cook teased attendees at an Apple shareholder meeting about future possibilities. “Do you remember when you were a kid, and Christmas Eve… it was so exciting,” Cook
reportedly said. “You weren’t sure what was going to be downstairs. Well, it’s going to be Christmas Eve for a while.” We’ll obviously be waiting some time for an Apple-branded car, but the latest comments from the Apple CEO will definitely add fuel to the fire.
During Apple’s Q4 2016 financial results, Apple CEO Tim Cook answered a flurry of questions regarding Apple Pay, Siri and most importantly, the Apple Car. While the CEO neither confirmed or denied the existence of Apple’s rumoured electric car, he said that Apple “always looks for ways that we can improve the experience and the customers’ experience on different sets of products”.
“And we are always looking at new things, and the car space in general is an area that it’s clear that there is a lot of technologies that will either become available or will be able to revolutionise the car experience.” he continued. “And so it’s interesting from that point of view, but nothing to, certainly nothing to announce today.”
Apple has been talking about cars for a long time. While Cook always seems to be speaking in riddles, if you read between the lines, it does hint that Apple may have something to announce somewhere down the line.
What analysts think about Apple’s car plans
We’ve already heard that Gene Munster believes that Apple is working on a car-related project, and warned back in February 2015 that it wouldn’t launch for at least five years. Which means we’re now well into the ‘Apple Car could launch any day now’ zone.
Guggenheim analyst Robert Cihra also believes Apple is working in a self-driving car. He told investors in June 2018 that he wanted to “reiterate our expectation that it ultimately launches a self-driving car, irrespective of contrary news flow and even its own hesitations to date.”
Cihra doesn’t think Apple would be content to supply the technology to other companies – he thinks Apple is more likely to make the car itself, giving it more control over design and manufacturing,
wrote The Mac Observer back in June 2018. Cihra said: “Given the market’s sheer size and parallels to Apple’s historical MO, we remain convinced that it will inevitably be drawn into launching its own car”.
Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi wrote in July 2018 that “Apple might be spending $500 million to $1 billion of its $12.7 billion R&D spend on autonomous driving alone,” according to a Cult Of Mac
Evidence that Apple is working on a car
Here’s where we list some of the most prominent rumours and evidence that suggests Apple is making a car.
Over the years various evidence has appeared suggesting that research is underway at Apple. For example, in November 2017, two Apple computer scientists published research proposing
a 3D detection system called VoxelNet, which they said would work effectively at helping autonomous cars avoid collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.
Then in May 2018, it emerged that
Apple and VW were to work together – not on a driverless car for sale to the public, but on a driverless vehicle to shuttle its employees to and from work. Is this the extent of Apple’s autonomous vehicle ambition?
In July 2019, a high-profile case saw the FBI catch an ex-Apple employee and charge them with stealing trade secrets from the company to take to a Chinese car startup. The case makes it clear that the company has a lot invested in the area, and there’s
more information on that below.
On the other hand, a January 2019 CNBC report claimed that 200 employees in Apple’s autonomous systems division were laid off at the end of January, suggesting that the iCar project may have been canned –
we’ll go into that in more detail too.
Towards the end of 2020 the rumours started heating up again, with claims that Apple was still at work on the project. Then in January 2021 a Bloomberg
report claimed that there is a team of people at Apple (including various ex-Tesla employees) working on “drive systems, vehicle interior and external car body designs” though, rather than just the underlying self-driving system.
However, the current lockdown situation is slowing progress apparently because the team is working from home, with limited office time. Read more here:
Bloomberg report reveals Apple has plans for completely autonomous vehicle.
Whatever the end product, Apple has definitely been working on developing something car-related, whether it’s an autonomous driving system, an Apple Car or simply an in-car entertainment system – although the company will never admit what. The next question is when will the Apple Car (or car software) launch?
Former employee charged with stealing car-related secrets
An Apple engineer who was working on Apple’s autonomous car project allegedly stole trade secrets for a Chinese car startup, and has been charged by the FBI.
Xiaolang Zhang worked at Apple from December 2015 until May 2018. He was charged with stealing trade secrets in July 2018.
Apple issued a
statement to The Verge in which it stated: “Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously. We’re working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions.”
Apple’s security team discovered that Zhang was responsible for a number of “bulk searches and targeted downloading copious pages of information” from a confidential database. CCTV forage of him leaving Apple’s autonomous vehicle lab (at a time he was supposed to be on leave) carrying a “computer keyboard, some cables, and a large box,” was also cited.
The case has made it clear not only that the car project is ongoing, but also that a lot of people are involved with the project. “Approximately 5,000 of Apple’s over 135,000 full-time employees are disclosed on the Project,” according to FBI documents.
Apple hiring car industry veterans and specialists
Perhaps the clearest sign of Apple’s interest in the car industry is the number of hires it’s made from that field over the years.
In December 2018, the company hired Andrew Kim – a senior designer at Tesla. He has also worked at Microsoft on the design of Windows 10 UI the HoloLens and Xbox One S.
Doug Field, who was previously VP of Mac hardware, then moved to Tesla to become the chief vehicle engineer, returned to Apple in August 2018.
According to the Wall Street Journal, in
July 2015, Tim Cook hired Doug Betts, a veteran of the car industry. Doug Betts has 25 years of experience working for Nissan and Toyota; from 2007 until last year, he was senior vice-president of Global Quality at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
The automobile expert has changed his LinkedIn profile. He describes his current job as “operation-Apple Inc.”, which could be interpreted as evidence to back up the WSJ report. On the other hand, this cryptic statement could mean a lot of things.
This wasn’t the first car-related hire. Since February 2015, Apple seems to have been quietly cherry-picking automobile industry experts – such as Paul Furgale, the Swiss researcher who led the V-Charge project developing self-parking cars.
In February 2015, a Business Insider source
claimed that Tesla employees were “jumping ship” to go and work at Apple. Evidence via LinkedIn supports this claim, with 50 profiles of current Apple employees that have an engineering history at Tesla, mainly through internships. Apple Insider
reported that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that Apple is trying very hard to get Tesla engineers, offering them a $250k signing bonus and 60 percent pay increase.
Also in February 2015, The Korea Times
reported that Apple was luring Samsung’s tech experts away, namely experts in battery technology; perhaps to work on batteries for the iPhone, but also, reports suggest to work on a battery-powered electric car. “Some of our personnel have been hired by Apple. They now work at Apple’s headquarters in San Jose,” claimed one anonymous Samsung official, stating that Apple offers competitive benefits and large salaries.
A lawsuit that was filed
in February 2015 claimed that Apple engaged in an “aggressive campaign” to poach engineers from electric car battery maker A123 Systems.
reported in June 2015 that Apple was reassigning workers to its car project at such a fast pace that other department leaders are beginning to complain about the loss of talent.
However, by May 2018, according to people familiar with the project who spoke to a New York Times
reporter, the “project has suffered from repeated changes in direction that have hurt morale and led to hundreds of departures from its peak of more than 1,000 members two years ago.”
That doesn’t mean that the project is over by any means, though.
Doug Field, who left Apple in 2013 to join Tesla, has now returned to Apple to work with the Project Titan car team. Field led the development of Tesla’s vehicles during his time at the company.
Project Titan is being run by Bob Mansfield, who had previously retired from Apple but returned to the company in 2016 to work on the car project. (Update: Mansfield retired in December 2020 so the
Apple Car team has moved to a new department.)
Mark Rober – who has a science-related YouTube channel with 3.4 million subscribers – is also working with Apple on the self-driving car project, according to a Variety report – that site had spotted Rober’s names on a couple of Apple VR-related patent applications that relate to self-driving cars.
Apple’s self-driving fleet
Apple has a test fleet of 62 self-driving vehicles and 87 drivers,
according to a macReports report from May 2018.
The company has been testing its autonomous cars in California since at April 2017 when it received its first permits to test there and has been steadily up-scaling the tests since launch. It’s reported that Apple is gathering data for autonomous vehicle software rather than its own line of vehicles, but would the company put that many vehicles on the street if it was only working on software?
Apple exec outlines self-driving car projects
Ruslan Salakhutdinov, Apple’s director of artificial intelligence research, attended the
NIPS conference in December 2017 and spoke at length about several projects the company has been working on. One has been disclosed before (as outlined below) but several were news to the Apple-following public.
Conference visitors heard about software that can identify pedestrians from camera images even if the camera is splashed with water and the pedestrian obscured by a parked car, and Apple has been collecting data for detailed digital maps of car-relevant features such as lights and road markings.
a full write-up of the talk.
Apple scientists publish research on self-driving cars
Yin Zhou and Oncel Tuzel, a pair of computer scientists who work for Apple, published
research in November 2018, into methods that could be used by automated cars to avoid collisions with pedestrians and cyclists.
The research, posted to the online journal arXiv.org, proposes a software system called VoxelNet, “a generic 3D detection network that unifies feature extraction and bounding box prediction into a single stage, end-to-end trainable deep network”. The system has seen promising results, the scientists report, but it has been tested in simulations only, rather than on the road.
The publication offer hints that Apple may be close to an announcement related to autonomous vehicles, although it is understood that the company is easing up on the secrecy it has traditionally imposed on its researchers – something that has made it increasingly difficult to hire the leading figures in AI, who are used to a policy of academic openness.
Apple writes to US transport regulators about self-driving car rules
While many had believed that Apple was stepping away from the autonomous car project, a letter penned to US transport regulators by Apple’s director of product integrity Steve Kenner may suggest otherwise. Apple has apparently said that it was “excited about the potential of automated systems in many areas, including transportation” and that there were “significant societal benefits of automated vehicles” to be realised.
An Apple spokesman has confirmed that the letter (in December 2016) to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was prompted by its “heavy investment in machine learning and autonomous systems” and that it wanted to help define best practises in the industry going forward.
The letter urges regulators to not introduce too many rules regarding the testing of self-driving cars, claiming that “established manufacturers and new entrants should be treated equally”. Kenner also suggests that companies should share data from crashes and near-misses to build a more comprehensive picture than would be possible by one company alone, helping to improve the systems.
Of course, with Apple being so focused on user privacy, it’d be out of character not to mention it in the letter. Kenner notes that an individual’s privacy should not be compromised by the sharing of data, and that regulators “address privacy challenges associated with the collection, use, and sharing of automated vehicle data”.
Apple awarded self-driving car permit in California
Following Apple’s letter to the NHTSA in late 2016, Apple has been awarded a permit that’ll let the company test autonomous vehicles on public roads in California.
According to the Wall Street Journal in April 2017, the permit lets Apple retrofit three 2015 Lexus SUVs with all the technology required for autonomous driving. The permit also allows for six people to sit in the cars during testing and can take over driving if/when necessary.
This suggests that Apple has been conducting successful tests on closed tracks and wants to really push the system by testing it on public roads where there are more variables for the autonomous driving system to deal with.
Is Apple still developing a self-driving iCar, or is it testing out autonomous technology for other manufacturers to use? Both options are possible, but it’ll be a while before we find out for sure
‘Engine noises’ heard late at night at Apple Car campus
If Apple isn’t developing a car, this rumour will be pretty hard to explain: AppleInsider
reported in February 2016 that someone who lives near Apple’s mysterious campus in Sunnyvale (believed to be where Apple is developing its car) complained about “motor noises” coming from the facility at night.
“[Do] there have to [be] motor noises at 11:00 p.m. at night like last night? Even with the windows closed I could still hear it,” the resident reportedly remarked.
However, the resident may be mistaken – construction sounds sound similar to the revving of an engine, especially at a distance. Last year, Sunnyvale issued permits to Apple allowing the company to build a “windowless repair garage” at one of the buildings Apple operates at, so it’s possible that is what was heard – although why the construction would take place at night is a mystery.
It’s also worth noting that if Apple is building a prototype car at the facility, the noises could be the sound of the lathes and mills required to shape the metal, a notoriously noisy process.
Apple buys car-related domain names
reported by MacRumors in January 2016, it appears that Apple has bought a number of car-related domain names including apple.car, apple.cars and apple.auto. The purchases took place in December 2015 and were brought to light via Whois, a service that finds information regarding specific domain names and IP addresses.
Whois records were updated on 8 January 2016 to show that Apple had registered the domains through registrar MarkMonitor Inc, although it’s worth noting that none of the registered domains are currently active.
While this may seem like confirmation that Apple is working on an Apple Car, it may not be the case; Apple could be buying the domains for use with Apple’s in-car system, CarPlay. It could also be to stop potential scammers looking to make money from people in light of the recent Apple Car rumours. Although with this being said, Apple bought iCloud.com months before its announcement and that was also
picked up by MacRumors.
Apple ‘testing a self-driving car at a War World II naval base’
Project Titan is on its way, at least according to an August 2015 report in
The newspaper reported that Apple has already developed its self-driving car, and now it just needs to be tested.
Unlike many carmakers – such as Google and Tesla – that are testing their self-driving vehicles on public roads, Apple wants to keep a low profile. That means the company needs some barricaded doors behind which it can test its secretive projects.
Apparently Apple has found the perfect top-secret testing base. Back in May 2016, according to the Guardian, Apple’s engineers met officials from GoMentum Station, a War World II-epoch disused naval base near San Francisco.
The base reportedly hosts 20 miles of everyday public transport scenarios, from highways to cattle grids; its 24-hour surveillance by armed soldiers prevents the public from nosing around the facility. According to GoMentum officials, the base is “the largest secure test facility in the world”.
However, it’s worth mentioning that the leaked report obtained by the Guardian consists of a filed public requests record about the meeting between Apple’s team and GoMentum officials.
There is no mention of an Apple iCar, and the most revealing clue comes from Apple engineer Frank Fearon, who said: “We would … like to get an understanding of timing and availability for the space, and how we would need to coordinate with other parties who would be using [GoMentum].”
Apple Car partners
If Apple is making the software who will be making the hardware?
Apple and Volkswagen
Apple’s driverless cars are a little closer to becoming a reality – but not in a way that means we’ll be able to buy one.
Apple has teamed up with Volkswagen to create a driverless vehicle to shuttle its employees to and from work.
A New York Times report from May 2018
claims “Apple has signed a deal with Volkswagen to turn some of the carmaker’s new T6 Transporter vans into Apple’s self-driving shuttles for employees.”
However, according to people familiar with the project, things are “behind schedule and consuming nearly all of the Apple car team’s attention”.
It would seem VW wasn’t Apple’s first choice for a partner. Apple had, apparently, tried to strike deals with BMW and Mercedes-Benz in the past, “to develop an all-electric self-driving vehicle,” according to NY Times sources.
Apple and Hyundai
Multiple reports in 2021 have named South Korean car company Hyundai as the favourite to join the Apple Car project.
In early January 2021 Hyundai issued a statement saying that “Apple and Hyundai are in discussions but they are at an early stage and nothing has been decided.” This statement was later revised, first to say that it was talking to a number of companies about an electric car tie-up, including Apple, and then to remove all mention of Apple. Read more here:
Hyundai reverses claims it’s working with Apple on Car.
But the rumours refused to die. A second Reuters report a few days later, based on a Korea IT News report, claimed Apple
was working with Hyundai after all. Then at the end of January Hyundai sources claimed it
didn’t want to work with Apple anyway… while Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo was convinced
Apple was indeed working with Hyundai and CNBC reckoned the firms were
close to finalising a deal.
Confused? As we moved further into February 2021, reports suggested the honeymoon was over and that negotiations between Apple and Hyundai
had been suspended. That’s that, apparently.
Apple and Nissan
As one door closes, another opens. It’s early days, and the evidence remains scant, but it seems possible that Nissan will step into Hyundai’s shoes.
There are two reasons to think this. One is that the Nissan CEO responded to a question about the Apple Car with what can only be described as a
come-and-get-me plea: “We need to take new initiatives [and] work with companies that are knowledgeable, with good experience, through partnership and collaboration.”
The other is that Nissan is an excellent fit, with similar advantages to Hyundai. It’s an experienced hand with electric cars and has factories in the US that are not fully used at present, which would be perfect for Apple’s planning.
Apple and Canoo
Apple’s also said to have been in negotiations with
electric car maker Canoo.
Apparently Apple wanted to buy the company in early 2020, but Canoo didn’t agree to a deal.
Apple Car related patents
It’s not that Apple hasn’t filed patents in this area. It would appear that the research and development arm of Apple has been researching automotive technology for over a decade with most being discovered by
Cult Of Mac.
One such patent,
filed in 2011, would allow you to unlock your car and start your engine from an iDevice such as your iPhone or iPad.
Another interesting patent,
filed in 2009, shows a design with in-car camera technology – what it was intended for is anyone’s guess, but we can speculate that it could be used to detect hand gestures that could control car functions, such as the locking system or headlights.
early 2012 patent concentrates on the configuration of the vehicle. It tries to solve the problem of how multiple people can all use one car but still be comfortable. The answer that Apple came up with? Use an iPhone to program user preferences from seat position to the ideal temperature to favourite radio stations – similar (but not so advanced) to what Range Rover does with memorising the driver’s favourite seat position in its Sport model.
Apple goes one step further with this patent – you could theoretically get in someone else’s car and have the same preferences you have in your car instantly set for you.
Another patent describes
using the iPhone’s geolocation abilities to monitor and control certain car functions based on geofences. The idea is to utilise the signals sent from your iPhone to, for example, unlock your car as you approach it and lock it as you walk away. Other functions for this patent could include opening the boot when you stand at the rear of the car – a function that would definitely come in handy when shopping!
The most recent patent, which was
published in August 2017, describes a system that utilises Bluetooth sensors for car-to-car communication. The sensors could, in theory, communicate with nearby cars, sensors and a GPS system to update the drivers’ dashboard to indicate obstacles like cars in your blind spot, or nearby emergency vehicles.
The patent doesn’t describe the tech as a self-driving car, it instead compares it to a more advanced version of parking sensors and blind-spot assists available on cars in production today.
Apple files patent for climate control in vehicles
This could be evidence of an iCar in the works, or simply a plan for software controls accessed via CarPlay or a future in-car interface; or it could be neither, since much patent activity by Apple and other companies is speculative and may never lead anywhere. But Apple’s filing of a patent (which came to light in April 2018) for climate control in vehicles certainly indicates (once again) that cars are in the company’s thoughts.
The patent, number 2018001734, involves the maintenance of “optimal comfort conditions”.
“The climate control system controls various vehicle components to control climate conditions, including window assemblies, sunroof assemblies, etc,” writes
AppleWorld. “It determines optimal comfort conditions that optimise the perceived temperature of various occupant body parts and maintain various climate characteristics within one or more sets of thresholds.”
Patent details unique in-car lighting system
A patent, first picked up by
AppleInsider, showcases a unique in-car lighting system that could provide illuminated car doors and seats that change contextually. The patent is titled “Lighting systems of vehicle seats” which is pretty straightforward. The underlying tech, on the other hand, is a little more complex.
Per the patent, Apple envisions a lighting system that utilises fibre-connected LEDs and OLEDs within a structure, be it a car door or even a car seat, complete with special lighting ducts to transport the light around the car while concealing the source.
When combined with embedded sensors, also mentioned in the patent, the end result is a door that looks like a door – with no noticeable displays – that’s able to display buttons and or icons when required. This could, for example, show passengers where the various levers are to adjust the seat position, or even advise passengers to put their seatbelt on when the vehicle is in motion.
It certainly sounds cool, but as with most patents, this isn’t confirmation that Apple will include the tech if/when it releases its own car. Like most tech companies, Apple files a lot of future-facing tech patents, but this is usually more representative in the interest of the company’s R&D teams than something that’ll appear on a device in the near future.
What will the Apple iCar look like?
If Apple does decide to develop a car to work with its autonomous driving system, will it have a similar look to Google’s driverless pod-style cars? The answer is that no one knows for sure.
Apple goes to extreme lengths to protect the details of its products before release and we expect nothing different from the iCar. It’d be a cold day in hell before Apple drives its finished product around before the announcement!
Still, people often describe Apple products as beautiful – and we think that Apple will launch a car that people will fall in love with… if indeed it does launch a car.
Remember the car that Apple drove around back in 2015 that everyone suggested was autonomous, but was actually used to ‘improve Apple Maps’? It has been sighted once again, although with some notable differences.
The video shared on Twitter by
@macjshiggins provides an up-close look at Apple’s hardware atop a Lexus SUV. It may be a relatively short video, but it gives us a glimpse at what the company is working on.
Higgins, the poster of the video and the co-founder of another autonomous vehicle company called Voyage, says that the large rooftop hardware probably contains the “majority of the compute stack”. This is different from other autonomous vehicles, which usually house this hardware in the boot of the car.
It also makes it much easier to transfer the tech between vehicles, an ideal situation while testing the tech across multiple vehicles.
Motoring website TopSpeed has
created a speculative rendering of what it imagines the iCar will look like. While this is in no way confirmation that Apple is designing the car, or this is the route that it’ll take, it’s interesting to see what those in the automotive industry imagine Apple’s high-tech electric car will look like.
Plus, a glowing Apple badge would look pretty cool, right?
What will the Apple Car feature?
While it’s tough at this stage to pinpoint key features of Apple’s upcoming vehicle, a report from Business Insider in September 2017 gave us a glimpse of what employees working on the project wanted the car to offer.
Per the report, Apple engineers contemplated featuring:
- Automatic doors that open and close silently
- An interior without a steering wheel or pedals (which would mean the car would have to be fully autonomous)
- Virtual- or augmented reality built into interior displays for entertainment purposes
- Spherical wheels that would allow the car to drive sideways
- Development of a more aesthetically pleasing driving system to replace the clunky
LiDAR system used by other companies developing autonomous cars
Of course, the project has allegedly changed course since then so these features may not materialise for quite some time, but it’s not to say that Apple won’t go on to develop a car once it perfects the ‘CarOS’ system itself.
Apple’s in-car entertainment system plans
While many have suggested that Apple is working on an autonomous car (or a system to sell to other manufacturers), a
report from Business Insider and comments from analyst Steven Milunovich suggest that something else could be in store for motoring fans.
BI recently discovered a secret Apple office in Berlin that is apparently devoted to transportation using engineers hired from car companies. But what if the company is working on more than just a car – what if it was developing an in-car entertainment system?
USB analyst Steven Milunovich discussed Project Titan with Horace Dediu and Neil Cybart and raised three issues:
- Transportation is bigger than IT and healthcare, two industries Apple is already deep in.
- Car ownership may plummet with autonomous driving.
- The company is building expertise in core sensor, driving and mapping technologies.
The most logical outcome? Project Titan “is likely to be a transportation platform – not a car, but the entire experience”, Milunovich remarked.
It’s an interesting idea; if cars in the future can drive themselves, what will the occupants be doing? It’s likely that passengers will require some form of entertainment, communications and apps to keep them occupied – something Apple provides with its other devices.
With all that on offer, the car will also require Wi-Fi, broadband connectivity, navigation information and its own operating system – all of which the company offers.
Combine that with rumours of an upcoming
Siri-enabled smart speaker to rival Amazon’s hugely popular Alexa-powered Echo. It’s not hard to imagine a future where Siri controls and operates your car, providing you with an iOS-like user interface to interact with.
How much will Apple’s car cost?
Though no solid pricing has been announced, we can take a look at Tesla’s latest car and speculate that the iCar would be a similar price – as the two companies are apparently now automotive industry rivals.
Tesla’s 2015 Model S, the company’s latest electric car offering costs a whopping £67,980 with the “tech pack”, something that we imagine an iCar would come with as standard. If Tesla is the benchmark, then the iCar certainly won’t be cheap but will be a thing of beauty.
A team of tech analysts from Jefferies & Co have thrown their hats in the ring, suggesting what they predict will be the price of Apple’s iCar. The team suggested that the iCar is likely to have a price tag of around $55,000, which translates to around £36,000 at the time of writing. That makes it almost half the price of Tesla’s Model S in the UK, which could give the fruit-shaped company a much-needed advantage in the electric car industry.